The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King & Ivor Crewe

A significant proportion of maternity leave involves navigating Rufus’s perilous bowel activities –  flying poos*, ‘poonamis’, and good old-fashioned leakage – and, although prompting Conradian cries of  ‘L’horreur! L’horreur!’ and constant fear of having undetected baby poo about my person, I optimistically maintain that such vicissitudes keep me limber for a return to Her Majesty’s Civil Service, my ‘real’ job which often comprises sh*t storms of a (supposedly) higher-brow kind. The Blunders of Our Governments was recommended to me during a policy-making course as a lesson in How We Could Avoid Government Sh*t Storms If We Really Wanted To.

King & Crewe, not an upmarket toiletries brand but professors at the University of Essex Department of Government, recount a number of post-Thatcher government blunders  – some well known, such as the Poll Tax, the creation of Child Support Agency and the Millennium Dome; and others less so, such as the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) formed to upgrade the London Underground in the late 1990s and the creation of Individual Learning Accounts in the early 2000s.

Following in-depth analysis of what in each case went wrong and why, King & Crewe identify several blunder-friendly characteristics of British Government. Those embedded within the ‘system’ include a weak centre at No 10 providing insufficient cross-department oversight, frequent ministerial change preventing deliberation and accountability, and a Parliament set on hurling abuse across the chamber precluding co-operative testing of policy ideas. Challenges wrought by individuals include cultural disconnect (exemplified by one minister suggesting elderly couples struggling to pay the Poll Tax ‘could always sell a picture’), group-think (‘we all think the same thing so we must be right, right?’), conscious and unconscious prejudice (e.g. ‘private sector GOOD, public sector USELESS, obvs’), the divorce between policy-makers and policy-deliverers, and the belief that spin and symbolism can replace well-considered policy making, particularly when that old pal blind panic sets in (‘British politicians…have a curious habit of functioning in crisis mode…even when no crisis exists…It seems to give many of them a high’).

King & Crewe keep it impartial (not difficult, given it’s clear that blunders are not limited to one political party) and positive – reminding us that overall the British Government does a rather good job (the wonder of the London 2012 Olympics being a solid example). But their anger is infectious, when one considers that the huge costs of some of these blunders  – up to £30 BILLION quid in the case of the PPP tube debacle, for example, that was effectively robbed from schools, hospitals and other public services – could be avoided by implementing their proffered solutions, which include more cross-party working and longer ministerial terms and overall would require radical systemic change.  I am hoping that the wisdom of King & Crewe, combined with my post-natal Intolerance of Any Kind of Unnecessary Fannying About, will inspire me to challenge bad policy-making practice, even if the wider system takes a bit longer to come round.  I have tired of  sh*t storms of all varieties. Although at least Rufus has a cute bum.

*they do fly. And occasionally may shoot out like a champagne cork before landing behind the sofa. Yes, I was surprised too and do believe such information should be included on the National Childbirth Trust course as a matter of urgency.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    I need this book in my life. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. And challenge those bad decisions when you’re back at work like the Warrior Mama you are! Flying poos not withstanding, I hope all goes well with transitioning back into the world of work. If my colleagues are anything to go by, you’ll have a different sense of perspective about it all, in a good way.


    1. Thanks Jan! That’s what I’m hoping for. Fingers crossed!

      Liked by 1 person

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